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We drive the Honda Civic EX-L

by Ali Arsham
Friday, August 01, 2014

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Honda sells around 20,000 Civics each month which is only second to their Accord. Since its introduction in 1973, Honda has sold 8.8 million Civics just in the United States alone.  With those numbers, the Civic is a very important model to Honda’s bottom line.  A couple of years ago, Honda came up with the ninth generation Civic that is said to be completely redesigned. 

The Civic enjoys a reputation for being a fun to drive compact that is inexpensive, fuel efficient, reliable, and durable.  The sixth generation Civic was perhaps one of the most popular cars for car tuners.  It was an amazing platform that could do whatever you please.  The same car could get 40 mpg or with some bolt on parts and an easy engine swap could race with Porsches and BMWs.  That kind of flexibility does not happen every day. The seventh generation Civic was not very well received by the enthusiasts mainly due to its suspension design which many saw as going backwards.  The eighth generation Civic received a sexy makeover and an improved suspension.  Honda made sure to let the enthusiasts know that they were listening by bringing back the Civic Si.  Now the ninth generation has a Civic Si for the enthusiasts which we will test drive later.  For now, we wanted to test the most popular Civic, a four door model with the new CVT transmission.

The ninth generation Civic was developed to improve overall refinement and fuel economy.  There are five different Civic models each with its own personality.  Those models include the sporty Si, the well equipped regular sedan, the efficient HF, the Civic Hybrid and the natural gas powered Civic CNG. 

The exterior styling of the Civic is supposed to be all new and is more aerodynamic than the old car.  However it is very hard to tell the difference between the old car and the new car unless you put them size by side.  The old four door had one of the best looking tail lights with a very Audi look which is now gone.  In their place is a much more ordinary set of tail lights. 

The interior is nice
Inside there is more room than before.  Although the new sedan is externally the same width and length, it has gained 3.7 cubic feet of interior volume.  It also has more shoulder room and hip room.  The new Civic is no longer a small car and it has enough room in the back seat for three people.  The rear passengers have lots of legroom and will never call the Civic small.  The trunk is also amazing and has more room than the old car as well.  You wonder how it is possible but somehow Honda made more passenger and cargo room in the same amount of space. 

The new car now has a 12.5 cubic foot trunk that is deep and long.  If you need more space, you can fold the rear seats and get even more space.  The leather seats in our EX-L felt great although they were a little slippery and did not provide much lateral support.  The dash layout also raised questions for feeling and looking cheap.  Although everything was solid and there were nothing wrong, it just lacked the richness of some of the newer competition.  One thing that we really liked about the interior was the side window design which allows you to drive up to freeway speeds with the window down with little buffeting. 

Under the hood of the EX-L is a 1.8 liter SOHC all aluminum four cylinder.  The 1.8 liter engine only puts out 143 hp which is not very impressive.  But it is not designed to be a high performance engine, but rather an efficient engine.  In fact the whole car is designed with efficiency in mind.  With a total weight of only about 2700 pounds, the Civic does not have to move a lot of weight around. 

Inside, you can see more evidence of the Honda engineers’ obsession with fuel economy.  As in the previous Civic, the dash is in two tiers.  There is a large fuel economy gauge and next to it is a multi-purpose screen that can show your trip distance, average fuel economy and miles to empty.  Next to the digital speedometer are two color bars that change color depending on your throttle position.  Then there is the ECON button located on the dash that tunes the car for maximum fuel economy.  With all of this engineering, our EX-L with the CVT  transmission was rated at 30 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway.  We averaged about 35 mpg but found that you can easily get 40 mpg while driving 70 mph on the freeway which was very impressive.

Driving the Civic in ECON mode is absolutely boring.  It feels very sluggish and slow to respond.  Climbing minor hills on the freeway feels like a huge hurdle and just wants to put you to sleep.  Turning off the ECON mode is better but still the car is not for enthusiast drivers.  It is too bad because the older Civics were very playful cars even in their base trim.  The new Civic has lost some of that playfulness and is more mature.  When the road turns twisty, the Civic does not feel frisky and attacking corners becomes a chore but the steering is very accurate and has very good feel and makes the car responsive.

The competition is getting tougher.  But the Civic has more room and based on history will retain its value better.  In the real world those differences are very minor and it will come down to which feels better.  The Civic is a proven player and feels as tight as a rusted bolt and provides a better driving experience.  As one person said "It is a boring car but it is also a great car." 

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